Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.
A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.
Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”
“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.
Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.
The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees, providers said.
“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”
“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”
Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.
“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”
Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.
Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:
- “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
- “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
- “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
- “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
- “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
- “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
- “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
- “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
- “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
- “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
- “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”
“I feel there is overreach regarding such topics as paint colors in classrooms, types of milk/juice to use, amount of outdoor time and number of snacks within a half day program,” said a commenter. “I also think that each preschool should be free to develop its own core philosophy and goals for their specific program.”
“I prefer we are not mandated to get involved with individual decisions,” one said in response to the breastfeeding provision. “Stating centers will support only gets into a very sticky violation if a mother tells an inspector my center director did not mention I should… Doctors should tell mothers what to do with their bodies, not center directors. Strike this reg. It is completely none of our business. This is definitely a reg that is invasive and intrusive to women.”
“I am starting to think this document is a joke,” one said about the celebration food provision. “This is intrusive. Birthday treats are not a health and safety issue. Celebrating a birthday is a cultural experience and should not be county regulated.”
Kurt Larrick, spokesman for Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, says the update to the county’s child care regulations is necessary and “a lengthy, iterative process that is not even close to over.”
“The current code was written in the late sixties and has not been updated since 1981, so it was dated and due for some revisions – a lot has changed over the past 50 years,” he told ARLnow.com. “We began the process of updating Chapter 52 in February of 2014. The goal always has been to create a code that (1) establishes standards that help protect the health, safety and well-being of children in child care centers in Arlington County and (2) provides a business-friendly framework that supports the community’s needs for quality child care options.”
We have used many tools to make our process open, participatory and inclusive to stakeholders and the entire community (meetings, online feedback, work groups, soliciting comments via e-mail, etc.). In response to feedback received this week, we have extended the comment period on the current iteration of the draft to March 31. This will ensure that all stakeholders have ample opportunity to share their thoughts on the draft.
The current comment period has shined a light on some areas of the draft code that require closer examination. That’s how the process is intended to work. Accordingly, the next iteration of the draft code will potentially include modifications in several key areas:
- Grandfathering staff whose hiring predates certain credentialing requirements
- Revisiting requirements related to access to medical care
- Clarifying adult-student ration requirements for cooperative preschools
Again, this is a lengthy process and we aren’t at the finish line by a long shot. The next draft will reflect the feedback we’ve received from parents, child care providers and other community members. And we’ll solicit feedback once again. The bottom line is we want a code that protects children while not being overly burdensome on child care providers. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the providers to achieve our goals.